Tag Archive | "History of the Comic Book Film"

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: The War Over WATCHMEN, Redux

Posted on 07 March 2014 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. Today, we once again interrupt our regularly scheduled program to cover new information about a film we already covered, Alan Moore’s Watchmen.

silver snyder watchmenIn terms of bringing Watchmen to the big screen, Joel Silver would be the alpha, and Zack Snyder would be the omega. Silver was the producer who first started process of bringing Alan Moore’s seminal work to theaters, but it was Zack Snyder who was able to finish the job. So, the two diverse and opinionated power players will be forever inexorably linked. But this doesn’t mean that they have to get along.

Through a serendipitous coincidence, Silver and Snyder produced films that were released a week apart. Silver is a producer on Non-Stop, which opened last week and Snyder is a producer on the sequel to his film 300, 300: Rise of an Empire which opens today. If the two films were released further apart, Snyder wouldn’t have just a quick turn around on answering Silver’s comments on his version of the Watchmen and I’d be writing about the Alien vs. Predator franchise like I had originally planned.

joel silverJoel Silver was interviewed by ComingSoon.net in conjunction with Non-Stop‘s release, and, as these interviews typically go, the interview spanned Silver’s entire career. Naturally, the topic of Watchmen came up. And since the bombastic Silver is never one to shy away from expressing his opinions–at length–we get exactly what he thought of Snyder’s version, and how his would have been much, much better:

CS: Speaking of ones that got away, as a die-hard Terry Gilliam fan I have to know if there’s anything juicy you can tell me about his conception of “Watchmen”?
Silver:
It was a MUCH much better movie.

CS: Than the one Zack Snyder made…
Silver:
Oh God. I mean, Zack came at it the right way but was too much of a slave to the material.

CS: Agreed.
Silver:
I was trying to get it BACK from the studio at that point, because I ended up with both “V For Vendetta” and “Watchmen” and I kinda lost “Watchmen.” I was happy with the way “V” came out, but we took a lot of liberties. That’s one of the reasons Alan Moore was so unpleasant to deal with. The version of “Watchmen” that Zack made, they really felt the notion. They went to Comic-Con, they announced it, they showed things, the audience lost their minds but it wasn’t enough to get a movie that would have that success. What Terry had done, and it was a Sam Hamm script–who had written a script that everybody loved for the first “Batman”–and then he brought in a guy who’d worked for him to do work on it [Charles McKeown, co-writer of "Brazil"]. What he did was he told the story as-is, but instead of the whole notion of the intergalactic thing which was too hard and too silly, what he did was he maintained that the existence of Doctor Manhattan had changed the whole balance of the world economy, the world political structure. He felt that THAT character really altered the way reality had been. He had the Ozymandias character convince, essentially, the Doctor Manhattan character to go back and stop himself from being created, so there never would be a Doctor Manhattan character. He was the only character with real supernatural powers, he went back and prevented himself from being turned into Doctor Manhattan, and in the vortex that was created after that occurred these characters from “Watchmen” only became characters in a comic book.

CS: That’s fascinating. Very META.
Silver:
Oh yeah. So the three characters, I think it was Rorschach and Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, they’re all of the sudden in Times Square and there’s a kid reading a comic book. They become like the people in Times Square dressing up like characters as opposed to really BEING those characters. There’s a kid reading the comic book and he’s like, “Hey, you’re just like in my comic book.” It was very smart, it was very articulate, and it really gave a very satisfying resolution to the story, but it just didn’t happen. Lost to time.

CS: Things happen for a reason, it might have changed the whole landscape of superhero movies right now as well.
Silver:
But I did like the movie, very much. Zack did great stuff in it!

I suppose before I go any farther, I should talk about the Alan Moore’s ending to the Watchmen series, which Silver briefly touches upon above. For as great as the series was, as ground breaking as the series was (more on what I thought here), it’s ending, in my opinion, was pretty damn awful. So, consider this your SPOILER WARNING.

Watchmen monsterIn the comic, Ozymandias’ grand plan to stave off nuclear annihilation was to create a giant, hideous creature, and then teleport the living, breathing creature into Midtown Manhattan, where it would promptly die, killing millions as it releases a psychic backlash as it undergoes its death throes. The nations of the  world would think this was the beginning of an alien invasion, and would put aside their differences to to unite to combat the supposed foe from outer space. The plan goess through and works.

Not only was Moore’s ending a swipe, inadvertent or not, of an old Outer Limits episode, but also it was a garish break from the realistic sci-fi of the rest of the series. Yes, you had a character that was a walking nuclear bomb, but at least his existence was explained by some pseudoscience. The beast’s didn’t get quite the same treatment.

On top of that, the plan doesn’t seem to be one that would work that well. You mean to tell me that the U.S. and U.S.S.R. wouldn’t be back at each others throats when the rest of the aliens failed to arrive? And the beast itself, the government wouldn’t chop it up to see how it worked? They probably find out a lot about it, perhaps even Ozymandias’ role in its creation.

Anyway, the ending did have to be changed for the film, on that I agree with Silver. I don’t agree necessarily that his ending was that much better.

The ending Silver describes corresponds with a Sam Hamm script for the project that I read years ago, one I spoke about here. The only other major changes I recall from that script would have been a tacked on action sequence where the heroes faced off against a superpowered villain at the Statue of Liberty (which would obliterate Moore’s deliberate plot choice of having Doctor Manhattan be the only superpowered being in the story) and removal of all the ephemera (the Minutemen, the Tales of the Black Freighter, etc) from the source material.

But the ending, well, it was a Twilight Zone ending with none of the irony that made Twilight Zone endings great. It kind of laid there on the page. Obviously, we were supposed have our mind’s blown, but the way it was presented, in an almost laughable way, it fell flat.

There are several things to take into consideration with Silver’s statement. One, you have to realize that Joel Silver is a producer in the Hollywood tradition of old, where he is a bombastic promoter of everything he puts his name on. Of course, he would think his version of Watchmen would be better. It’s not in his DNA to say any different. And another thing is while Silver made it sound like this ending was Gilliam’s idea, it definitely came from Hamm. Granted, I wasn’t privy to any communications between the parties in 1988, and how much influence Gilliam had on the script, but the ending came from a script with Hamm”s name, and only Hamm’s name on it. If Gilliam was so enamored with Hamm’s script, why did he bring McKeown in to rewrite it? Because he wanted to change it. Who knows if the ending was one of the things Gilliam wanted to change?

zack snyderBut thanks to Silver, Gilliam was thrown under the bus, and is being viewed as the bad guy in this. Well, at least in Zack Snyder’s eyes. Only one week later, talking to The Huffington Post while promoting 300: Rise of an Empire, Snyder and his wife Deborah decided to address Silver’s words–by taking a shot at Gilliam:

Was “Watchmen” the most “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” project you’ve ever been a part of? Now Joel Silver is criticizing you for being a “slave” to the source material while touting a very different from the source material script that Terry Gilliam was going to film.

Zack Snyder: It’s funny, because the biggest knock against the movie is that we finally changed the ending, right?

Right, you used Dr. Manhattan as the threat to bring the world together as opposed to the alien squid.

Zack Snyder: Right, and if you read the Gilliam ending, it’s completely insane.

Deborah Snyder: The fans would have been thinking that they were smoking crack.

Zack Snyder: Yeah, the fans would have stormed the castle on that one. So, honestly, I made “Watchmen” for myself. It’s probably my favorite movie that I’ve made. And I love the graphic novel and I really love everything about the movie. I love the style. I just love the movie and it was a labor of love. And I made it because I knew that the studio would have made the movie anyway and they would have made it crazy. So, finally I made it to save it from the Terry Gilliams of this world.

In Gilliam’s version, Dr. Manhattan is convinced to go back in time and prevent Dr. Manhattan from existing. But the specter of his existence is the threat to the world, which is kind of what you did at the end of the movie anyway.

Zack Snyder: Right, of course. It’s just using elements that are in the comic book already, that’s the only thing I did. I would not have grabbed something from out of the air and said, “Oh, here’s a cool ending” just because it’s cool.

Deborah Snyder: But it’s interesting because, you’re right, it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You have people who are mad that the ending was changed and you have other people saying, “Oh, it was a slave to the graphic novel.” You can’t please everybody.

Zack Snyder: And that’s the problem with genre. That’s the problem with comic book movies and genre. And I believe that we’ve evolved — I believe that the audiences have evolved. I feel like “Watchmen” came out at sort of the height of the snarky Internet fanboy — like, when he had his biggest strength. And I think if that movie came out now — and this is just my opinion — because now that we’ve had “Avengers” and comic book culture is well established, I think people would realize that the movie is a satire. You know, the whole movie is a satire. It’s a genre-busting movie. The graphic novel was written to analyze the graphic novel — and comic books and the Cold War and politics and the place that comic books play in the mythology of pop culture. I guess that’s what I’m getting at with the end of “Watchmen” — in the end, the most important thing with the end was that it tells the story of the graphic novel. The morality tale of the graphic novel is still told exactly as it was told in the graphic novel — I used slightly different devices. The Gilliam version, if you look at it, it has nothing to do with the idea that is the end of the graphic novel. And that’s the thing that I would go, “Well, then don’t do it.” It doesn’t make any sense.

I can’t imagine people being happy with that version.

Zack Snyder: Yeah! If you love the graphic novel, there’s just no way. It would be like if you were doing “Romeo and Juliet” and instead of them waking up in the grave area, they would have time-traveled back in time and none of it would have happened.

Between this and his response to the casting controversy over Batman Vs. Superman, Snyder is coming off as a man with a larger than normal ego but with thinner than normal skin. This is not a good combination for a Hollywood player, especially one whose milieu is comic book adaptations. Reading Snyder’s response, you’d think that Joel Silver accused him of being a being the antichrist and of selling kidnapped babies on the black market. You’d think that Silver’s remarks were a vicious and petty slam on his genius, and that he didn’t say anything nice about Snyder’s Watchmen at all. Well, Silver’s comments are reprinted verbatim above. You can see that that wasn’t the case at all, unless of course, the kids these days consider “But I did like the movie, very much. Zack did great stuff in it!” the biggest diss in the world. OOH, SNAP!

Actually, scratch that. You’d think Terry Gilliam did all those things. Snyder doesn’t mention Silver once. But he is more than ready to place all the blame on Gilliam’s feet. I especially love the exceptional arrogance when he says that he was saving Watchmen from the Terry Gilliams of the world. Listen, Zack. I know this is hard to hear, but you really, how do athletes put it, you can’t hold Gillaim’s jock strap. Uh, uh, I know what you’re going to say. Stop. I have three titles for you. Time Bandits. Brazil. 12 Monkeys. Your argument, no matter what it is, is invalid.

secondwatchmenteaserI will give Snyder credit for one thing. His ending is better than either Hamm’s or Moore’s. He is correct when he says it ties into the story better and is more effective in reaching Ozymandias’ goals. And I do grasp the satiric bent Snyder was going for, and I got it when the film first came out. I knew the costumes in the film were meant to be a commentary on the latex, nippleriffic costumes of the first Batman franchise and others. However, the other changes did not work quite as well. The extended sex scene totally misses the point of the Dan/Laurie pairing from the novel and has the strong odor of crass titillation to appeal to the lowest common denominator (and also shoots a hole in Snyder’s claim about being interested in being true to the tone of his source). And having the heroes, all essentially athletes at the top of human potential, be able to kick bad guys six feet in the air or turn bricks to dust with their punch was very distracting from the narrative.

But outside of this, the film is way to faithful to the source material. That criticism is valid. What many comic fans (or fans of any media that is adapted to film) fail to realize is that films are different from comics. There’s a different machinery at play. What works in a 12-issue miniseries will not work in a 2 hour movie.

I’ll admit, the fanboy in me did get a certain amount of glee from hearing dialogue taken directly from the comics repeated verbatim from the mouths of the actors. However, at times the film was less a film, and more a rote, less visceral recap of the graphic novel. I felt myself forming a mental checklist of the plot elements that Snyder was bringing to the screen instead of getting lost in the story, like I should have. And a lot was lost in the translation. Snyder didn’t adapt the elements from the graphic novel, he presented them. And his visual style took a lot away from Moore and Gibbons’ style. The result? It was a faithful adaptation that lost a lot of the grit and gravitas of the original. That’s my main criticism of it.

Wrapping up, I consider the Terry Gilliam Watchmen one of the classic lost films that we’ll never have the opportunity to see. If he was able to make the adaptation work,I doubt that the final product would have resembled the Sam Hamm script in the least. It might not have resembled the comic either, but it would have been inventive and imaginative. But we will never know what we would have got because we didn’t get it. Therefore, it’s silly for Snyder to say his version is better than the one we would have received from Gilliam. But the fact that he felt so threatened as to say that really says a lot about Snyder and his personality. And what it says is not very nice.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: HULK…NOT THAT GOOD.

Posted on 21 February 2014 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. We take a look at a Jade Giant’s first go around on the big screen.

I am of the firm belief that if Hulk ended with the scene where Betty meets up with the Hulk in San Francisco, we’d be talking about it as one of the best comic book films of all time. Unfortunately, it didn’t end there, and what came after makes it instead one of the most disappointing comic book films.

hulk1coverThe Hulk was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as a sort of Jekyll and Hyde for the Atomic Age, and Cold War version of Frankenstein. He was Bruce Banner, a nuclear physicist who was work on a gamma radiation bomb. He is caught in a bomb blast while rescuing a teenager who wanders on to the testing site and instead of killing him, the radiation turned him into a superstrong beast that would appear whenever he got angry.

Initially, the concept was one of Marvel’s early failures. The Hulk’s first series only lasted six issues.  But as the character appeared in cameo appearances in some of Marvel’s more popular books such as The Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four there was an upswing in popularity. The character first got a co-starring strip in a comic called Tales to Astonish , eventually a series of his own.

The character reached the apex of its popularity in 1978 when the character received a live-action TV show on CBS. The Incredible Hulk starred Bill Bixby as “David” Banner and Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk. The TV show changed the origin so that Banner got his powers through genetic manipulation rather than being caught in a bomb blast.

The series lasted until 1982, with three follow-up TV-movies from 1988 to 1990. The same year the final made-for-TV movie debuted, the process of bringing the Hulk to the big screen began. Producers Avi Arad and Gale Anne Hurd began the development process, with Universal brought on board starting in 1992. Screenwriter Michael France was hired in 1994 and developed a script that had the Hulk fighting terrorists. This script was rejected and France was replaced by John Turman the next year. Turman’s series of scripts hewed closer to the comic books, with General Ross and the U.S. Military as the primary villains.

Here is where it gets convoluted. France was brought back in as writer in late-1996. However, when Joe Johnson was brought on to direct, the studio asked the projects producer, Jonathan Hensleigh, who wrote the hit Jumanji for Johnson, to reunite with the director. France was paid off and let go without ever writing a word. Unfortunately, Johnson passed on the project, and Hensleigh moved into the director’s chair. Turman was back to write a couple drafts, which were rewritten by Zak Penn. The highlight of this round of scripts was a fight between the Hulk and a group of sharks.

HulkposterTaking that into consideration, it’s no surprise that Hensleigh took over the writing reins himself, with the Hulk fighting convicts who were altered by gamma irradiated insect DNA. Hensleigh’s rewrote the script with J. J. Abrams, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, and the project made it all the way to the casting stage before Universal, realizing that it had a $100 million picture in the hands of a first-time director, got cold feet.

Exit Hensleigh in 1999 and re-enter Michael France at this point.  France took another shot at the script, with rewrites from Michael Tolkin and David Hayter in 2000. Hayter brought in the Hulk’s comic book adversaries The Leader, Absorbing Man and Zzzax.

It wasn’t until 2001, after more than 10 years of development, that the Hulk film made the final leg of its journey to the big screen. That was when Ang Lee, fresh off his Oscar nomination for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, came on board. He brought James Schamus on to rework the script. This time it actually took, and the film was on the way to the big screen.

hulk20Lee cast the relative unknown Eric Bana as Bruce Banner/the Hulk and surrounded him with quality actors such as recent Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly, Oscar nominated Nick Nolte as Banner’s father, and the so-awesome-he-doesn’t-need-a-stinkin’-Oscar-nomination Sam Elliot as General Ross.

The first two thirds of the film are borderline genius. Lee seems to have had a lot of fun constructing the visual, employing split screen imagery that replicated comic book panels, which created an awesome, pop art-esque effect. The origin is once again tied to genetic engineering rather than weapons of mass destruction, but one important aspect of the comic book version’s backstory made the jump to the screen. Banner’s rage issues are tied to an abusive relationship with his father (in the film, dad tried to kill a young Bruce).  This was an introduction in the comics that added layers of depth to the character.

bruceandbettyThe film reaches a crescendo as the Hulk escapes from a military installation and travels from the desert to San Francisco, fighting the military all the way. It was the comic book Hulk brought to life and it was awesome. Even better, the Hulk is only stopped by the appearance of Betty in the Bay Area. Beauty soothed the savage beast, and it was an element of hope for the future. If the film ended with the shot of Bruce in Betty’s arms, it would have been one fine movie. But like I said, the film didn’t end there.

hulk and dadThe real, awful ending, which looks like the textbook definition of tacked on, begins with Bruce’s father, David, coming to the high tech prison where Bruce is being held for a talk. Now, this is a man who was committed to a mental institution after a failed attempt to kill Bruce and a successful attempt to accidentally kill his wife. This guy, THIS GUY, gets to walk unimpeded onto a military prison so he can talk to the son, a man with rage issues that causes him to turn into a huge monster.

Unbeknownst to the guards, David submitted himself to a similar experience that gave his son his powers. Only this time around, the elder Banner was given the ability to absorb the physical properties of anything he touches (much like the comic’s Absorbing Man). While this is a pretty great power, David wants more. He wants to leech the power his son has, and that is the true reason for his visit.

David grabs a conveniently exposed power cable and turns himself into living electricity (much like the comic’s Zzzax) and attacks Bruce, causing him to turn into the Hulk. The two fight, Ross drops a bomb on them, David dies, the Hulk escapes.

The fact that this ending is mind-numbingly stupid is only hampered by Nolte’s hammy overacting during the scene and the absolutely horrid CGI during the battle sequence.

This ending was enough to kill the film for me. I can’t hate it, but I can’t rate it any higher than a noble failure. I wasn’t alone. Even though the film made a respectable amount of money worldwide, the next appearance of the Hulk was a reboot. We’ll be talking about that when we get to the Marvel shared universe.

Next, a film that technically isn’t based on a comic book property, but wouldn’t exist without a comic book.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: David Lindsay-Abaire: The SPIDER-MAN 4 Script Is NOT Mine

Posted on 31 January 2014 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. We take a break from the parade of comic book films to update you on a previous entry.

David Lindsay-Abaire

David Lindsay-Abaire

Back on December 6th, as part of this feature’s look at the Spider-Man franchise, I discussed several scripts making the rounds on the Internet that were supposedly written for the abandoned fourth installment directed by Sam Raimi. In the column, I doubted the veracity of the scripts, and it turns out that I was right. How do I know? The author of one of the “scripts” let us know.

Pulitzer-prize winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire sent an e-mail to FBOL Head Honcho Rich Drees to let us know in no uncertain terms that the script found online was not written by him. As you can tell from the excerpt from his email below the script is most definitely not his.

Dear Rich –

David Lindsay-Abaire here.

I wouldn’t normally respond to an article like this, but things can linger on the internet for years. And if I’m going to take some knocks online, I’d like to think they were based on a script that I actually wrote instead of some fan fiction that someone tacked my name onto. With that in mind, I wonder if you could at least update the article to add some kind of note saying that it’s been confirmed that the script in question is not in fact by David Lindsay-Abaire. (For what it’s worth, my script was 122 pages, and featured Kraven as the villain.)

 

I am more than happy to help Mr. Lindsay-Abaire set the record straight. In addition to this post, I will be updating the original post to reflect his correction concerning that script. Hopefully, this column will come up when people search Google for Mr. Lindsay-Abaire’s Spider-Man script, so fans won’t waste time on the fake script.

This does seem to be the first time that Kraven was mentioned as a villain in the franchise. It would have been interesting to see Lindsay-Abaire’s take on the character.

We will return to our regularly scheduled History of the Comic Book Film post with our next installment.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: Giving The Devil His Due

Posted on 17 January 2014 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. Today, one of Marvel’s second tier characters gets the movie treatment–Daredevil.

daredevil1Daredevil was the red-headed stepchild of the Silver Age Marvel Comics. He was one of the last concepts introduced in the companies resurgence, and the lack of effort showed.

While the character had a good hook (Matt Murdock was a lawyer blinded by radioactive waste as a child who gained radar sense in the accident, and he used that power to fight crime), he came off as a pale imitator of the other urban vigilantes at the time. He was a superpowered Batman (complete with the Joker-like Jester and Penguin-like Owl as adversaries), or a boring version of Marvel’s own Spider-Man.

Marvel struggled for over a decade to try and create a unique identity for the character. He got a costume change seven issues into his run. He gained a second alternate identity for a time (Mike Murdock, supposedly Matt’s flashy, hipster brother, but really also Matt in disguise). He moved from New York to San Francisco and back again. He got a sidekick/slash love interest in Black Widow for a brief period. But nothing seems to stick. By the late 70s, the title had gone to a bi-weekly schedule, the last resort Marvel used before it cancelled a title.

Enter Roger McKenzie and Frank Miller. McKenzie presented Daredevil in a darker, noir style of stories, which the character fit immediately. However, artist Miller didn’t think McKenzie was taking the character too far into the noir world, and threatened to leave the book. Instead, McKenzie was fired and Miller was given the task of writing and drawing the feature.

This turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to Daredevil. Miller plunged the character deeply into a grim and gritty world of gangsters and ninjas. Death was always an option and betrayal was always near. Miller’s Daredevil was a haunted, damaged hero, one who was almost too willing to stoop to the level of the killers he faced.

Frank Miller in his Daredevil cameo.

Frank Miller in his Daredevil cameo.

Miller introduced an old flame of Matt’s who became the assassin Elektra. He took old DD villain Bullseye and turned him into a raving psychopath with a particular obsession with our hero. And he also made Spider-Man villain Kingpin a feared crime boss more in line with real world crime figures. Miller eventually put these characters on a collision course, one that ended with the death of Elektra at the hands of Bullseye, as ordered by Kingpin.

Miller’s Daredevil was a shock to the system, not only to the character and the title, but also to the larger world of comics as a whole. Miller was at the for front of the artist/writer movement at Marvel, his reboot sharing the shelves with John Byrne’s Fantastic Four and Walt Simonson’s Thor reboot as well. But he was also part of the larger comic book deconstructionism that Alan Moore and others were working on at other companies.

Miller’s work on Daredevil influenced the character for decades to come. While the character did have some rough periods (namely, the 1990s), Miller set the stage for writers such as Denny O’Neil, Ann Nocenti, Kevin Smith (yes, that Kevin Smith), Brian Michael Bendis, and Ed Brubaker to create excellent Daredevil stories. Even Mark Waid’s current awesome, kinder and gentler take on Daredevil would not be possible without Miller’s influence. And Miller’s influence was also heavily felt in the 2003 film adaptation.

There had been several attempts to bring Daredevil to cinematic life. The earliest was in the mid-70s when Angela Bowie was shopping around a Daredevil/Black Widow TV project. The character also had a back door pilot with The Trial of the Incredible Hulk. But the character’s trek to the big screen began in earnest in 1997.

daredevilposterThat’s when 20th Century Fox first optioned the rights to the character, with Chris Columbus in line to write and direct the feature. This first time didn’t pan out and the rights reverted to Marvel. Disney made a play at getting the rights, but the project was instead set up at Columbia Pictures, with Mark Steven Johnson brought on to rewrite the script. Eventually, they passed and the rights moved on to New Regency in 2000 with Fox now on board to distribute. Johnson was also named director of the film.

Casting began on the film. Guy Pierce was approached to play Matt Murdock, but he passed because comic book stuff really wasn’t “his cup of tea.” (I guess he got used to the taste of that kind of tea, because a decade later, he would go on to be the main bad guy in Iron Man 3). Matt Damon also got the call, but passed over issues with the script and director. Eventually, the role went to Damon’s friend, and fan of the Daredevil comic book, Ben Affleck.

Colin Farrell, once also up for the role of Daredevil, took the role or Bullseye. Jennifer Garner beat out actresses ranging from Selma Hayek to Jessica Alba for the role of Elektra. And for the role of the fat, Caucasian Kingpin, they chose the muscular African-American Michael Clarke Duncan. That might seem to be a fairly egregious bit of miscasting, but Duncan did better in his role than the other two did in theirs. Farrell’s overacting got a bit too much sometimes, and Garner was as believable as a Greek shipping heiress as Brad Pitt would be as the ugliest man alive.

But while the film had its share of miscues, and is a constant target of scorn and derision from comic book fans, I liked it. Well, it had me on its side after it gave Kevin Smith a cameo as a mortician called Jack Kirby, but I thought it was an okay presentation of the material. I really liked the way they added elements of the comic book series into the film. The dialogue for the Elektra/Bullseye fight was taken almost word for word from the Frank Miller dialogue in the comics when Bullseye killed Elektra.

While I liked the film, I didn’t care too much for what came out of it. With grosses in excess of $179 million, Fox wanted to capitalize on Daredevil’s success. They did so by giving us Rob Bowman’s Elektra. They really shouldn’t have.


elektraposterI can’t really garner much animosity for the film. My only remembrances of watching it was being bored by it. But this film failed because it didn’t know what it wanted to be. The script by Zak Pen, Stuart Zicherman and Raven Metzner was at war with itself. Was it a superhero movie setting Elektra against superpowered villains? Was it a martial arts tale? Was it a thriller? Was a Hallmark-lite version of female self-discovery? Whatever it was going for, it didn’t do it well.

Elektra took in more than its budget, but was still considered a disappointment. That combined with a growing disdain for Daredevil made any sequel to that film impossible. Eventually, talks turned to a reboot with David Slade at the helm. When he left the project, there was only a limited time left on Fox’s option. A last minute of getting a reboot up and running by Joe Carnahan fell through, and the rights reverted back to Marvel. But Carnahan did put together one great sizzle reel.

Marvel has decided the future of DD did not lie on movie screens, but on your computer. It is developing Daredevil for a series on Netflix.

Next up, the noble failure that was Ang Lee’s Hulk.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: Off the Radar

Posted on 03 January 2014 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. Today, the success of X-Men and Spider-Man send studios looking for adaptations at smaller comic book publishers.

By 2003, movies from comic books were a big deal. The success of the X-Men and Spider-Man films indicated that there was gold in bringing comic characters to life, and Hollywood wanted to get in on it.

Unfortunately, most of the big guns were taken. Sony had Spider-Man and Thor, Fox had the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Daredevil. Universal had the Hulk, and any DC Comics characters had to go through parent company Warner Brothers first.

Luckily for producers all over town, the comic book industry had expanded so there were a number of other viable companies putting out comics, all with characters ready to be brought to the big screen. Well, the powers that be might have thought they’d be ready. But as we’ll see, sometimes audiences thought differently.

BulletproofMonkBulletproof Monk, the comic, was a comic book by committee. The concept was originated by two men who never put fingers to keyboard, nor ink to Bristol board. Michael Yanover and Mark Paniccia created Flypaper Press and a content farm for their ideas, which they would hire writers and artists to flesh out and produce.

One of these concepts was one that would take the Asian Kung Fu film, move it to a city and add Star Wars type mysticism to it. They hired Michael Avon Oeming, who would later gain fame working on Powers, to do the art and asked relative newbie Brett Lewis and indie veteran R.A. Jones to do the writing. Gotham Chopra, son of Deepak Chopra, was brought in as a consultant on the Eastern mysticism in the story. And that story became Bulletproof Monk.

Yanover and Paniccia started shopping the concept to Hollywood before the second issue even came out. They got interest from John Woo, whose movies were an inspiration for the concept. Woo eventually agreed to produce the film. His frequent collaborator, Chow Yun-Fat, was cast as the titular monk. Heath Ledger might have made his comic book film a few years before his turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight, as he was in line to star as the Monk’s assistant, Kar. He dropped out to accept a role in The Order, and Seann William Scott took his place.

Bulletproof_Monk_8627_MediumIf Yanover and Paniccia were thinking they might have a Men in Black style underdog hit on their hands, they were sorely mistaken. The film opened to horrible reviews and only made $37 million worldwide against a $52 million budget.

Bulletproof Monk might have been committee designed to be a film franchise, 30 Days of Night was a comic book concept that went nowhere, was then proposed as a film idea and was shot down, before IDW Publishing decided to publish it as a comic. It is also one of the most inventive approaches to horror to ever come down the pike.

As the film Insomnia told us, parts of Alaska experience 24-hours of sunshine for weeks at a time. The flip side of this is that they also experience 24-hours of night for weeks at a time.

30-days-of-nightNow, consider if you were a vampire. You have to hunt your prey—humans—for food—blood—in the small window of time you are both awake. The sun is deadly to you, so you stay behind closed doors and windows in the day time when people are out doing their business. And most people stay indoors when the sun goes down, so your pickings are slim—from the late shift workers, college party crowd, etc.

For you, a month of darkness is a great thing. Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith thought so. That’s why they wrote 30 Days of Night, a comic about a cadre of vampires that relocate to Barrow, Alaska and use the small town as their personal smorgasbord.

The series sold loads of copies, spawned numerous print sequels, established IDW as a publisher of note, raised the profile of both Niles and Templeton (who were nominated for Eisner Awards, comic’s version of the Oscars, for the series), and attracted Hollywood’s attention. Yes, the concept that was at first unwanted as both a comic book and a film would end up being a success at both.

04934874_In 2002, Sam Raimi’s Senator International picked up the rights to the comic. Niles wrote the first draft of the script, which was rewritten by Stuart Beattie and then again by Brian Nelson when director David Slade came on board. Josh Hartnett played the town Sheriff, Melissa George his estranged wife, and Danny Huston played the leader of the vampires.

The film was a success, making $75 million worldwide against a $30 million budget. It was a huge success on home video, which led to a direct-to-video sequel and two prequel miniseries on FEARnet.com.

2-poster41You get the feeling that Disney was itching to get into the comic book film business for a long time, because in 2007 they purchased the rights to the Top Shelf miniseries, The Surrogates, a high-concept story set in the sci-fi genre, for its Touchstone shingle.

The story concerned the future of 2054, where everyone has an idealized, mind-controlled robotic duplicate of themselves that they use for everyday interaction while they stay home in their ugly flesh and blood bodies. When someone starts destroying the Surrogates, which kills the owners in the process, an anti-Surrogate cop needs to get to the bottom of the mystery behind it.

surrogates_movieThe film, produced in part by Elizabeth Banks, was directed by Jonathan Mostow and starred Bruce Willis as the cop. The cast also included James Cromwell, Ving Rhames  and Rosamund Pike, which would make for a pretty good film, you would think. Unfortunately, critics gave it mostly negative reviews. The film made $122 million worldwide, a disappointing figure when you think it cost $80 million to make.

Whiteout was another high concept comic book series. Published by Oni Press and created by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber, it is a murder mystery set in the scientific stations of Antarctica. It centers on a U.S. Marshall by the name of Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale) who must investigate the murders of several scientists before she retires her post.

Whiteout_posterThe comic was nominated for a number of Eisner’s, but the 2009 film adaptation was not what you’d call award-worthy. Many would pin the blame for the film’s flopping ($17.8 million worldwide versus a $35 million budget) on it having a female lead. But the 7% fresh rating it got from critics couldn’t have helped. Pity poor Gabriel Macht. This film, in which he plays a UN agent, came at the end of a three year span of completely awful movies he starred in (joining 2007’s Because I Said So and 2008’s The Spirit).

Next, Kevin Smith’s favorite hero gets the big screen treatment, does well, and is never seen again.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: What SPIDER-MAN 4 Might Have Been

Posted on 06 December 2013 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. Today, we look at what the aborted fourth Raimi Spider-Man film might have looked like, and the answer isn’t pretty.

David Lindsay-Abaire

David Lindsay-Abaire

In January 2008, things were looking good for Spider-Man fans. Spider-Man 3 was the biggest hit of the franchise thus far, and Raimi, Maguire, and Dunst had all signed on to do a fourth installment, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. Sony was even planning a fifth and sixth installment as well.

Then the wheels fell off. Two years later, Raimi would be gone, taking Maguire and Dunst with him, and Sony would be rebooting the franchise less than ten years after it began.

There are two writings from this era that would give us hints as to how the fourth film might have worked out—if the writings are at all legitimate. The first is a First draft/Test draft supposedly written by Lindsay-Abaire, the second, a treatment by Raimi himself that was to contradict the Lindsay-Abaire script.  But there are enough red flags in each that calls their authenticity into doubt. (UPDATE: David Lindsay-Abaire has contacted us to say the script credited to him is NOT his.)

Let’s start with the Lindsay-Abaire script, which immediately raises two red flags. RED FLAG #1 is that the script is only 41 pages long. Each page of a script roughly equals out to be one minute of screen time, so this means Lindsay-Abaire’s script wouldn’t even be long enough to be a one-hour network drama, sans commercials.  RED FLAG #2 are the numerous grammatical and spelling errors in the script. Granted, it is a “first draft”, but you’d think that a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright would know the difference between “rite” and “right” and know that “Spider-Man” and “Daily Bugle” should be capitalized.

Dylan Baker finally would have become the Lizard

Dylan Baker finally would have become the Lizard

Lindsay-Abaire has the Lizard be Spidey’s only adversary in the script, but only gets his official film origin in a truncated pre-credit sequence.  I’ll call this RED FLAG #3, if only because Dylan Baker deserved better.

We pick up on Peter Parker in his new job as Assistant Editor of the Daily Bugle. How did Peter get this promotion? By faking a picture that looks like Spider-Man was stealing as per J. Jonah Jameson’s request. This is RED FLAG #4, for anyone who remembers Spider-Man 3. See, in that film, Eddie Brock is fired from the Daily Bugle by Jameson after Parker reveals that Brock doctored a picture of Spidey to make him look like a criminal. It’s a pretty big plot point. It’s the reason why Brock wants to kill Peter and be willing to become Venom to do so.  If Jonah was willing to have Peter fake photos, then Eddie’s faking photos wouldn’t have made that big of a difference and the last film would have been one villain shorter and that much better for it.

Anyway, the Lizard goes on rampages across the city and Spidey tries to stop him. In the mean time, MJ leaves Peter because he can’t give up being Spider-Man, so Peter starts getting closer to Gwen.

spider-man-vs-lizardPeter is still in the same ratty apartment he was living at in the other films (RED FLAG #5, if he got a better job, why not a better apartment? The script shows he’s been helping Aunt May with the extra cash, but still…) when he gets a call from the hospital. Aunt May has taken sick. She has an infection caused by radioactive isotopes in her blood and they need radiation (“like chemo”) to counter act its effects (which I’ll call RED FLAG #6. It mirrors a malady May experienced in the comics (Amazing Spider-Man #31 to #33, to be exact), but that was back before they knew exactly what radioactive particles in the bloodstream would actually do.)

Peter comes up with the only idea that will save Aunt May—injecting her with the Lizard’s blood! That will cure her! Um…RED FLAG #7: if she needs something like “chemo”, why not give her chemo? Or at least try chemo first before Peter goes after the Lizard? And RED FLAG #8, it’s pretty clearly established that the Lizard’s powers are cause by something he injected into his blood stream. Soooo, if Peter injects May with the Lizard’s blood, wouldn’t he be passing along his powers as well?

Spidey finds Curt Connors down in the sewer, working on a machine that will cure him of being the Lizard. Connors will give a blood sample if Spidey, who reveals his identity to a foe once again (RED FLAG #9), helps on his machine. Spidey asks what happens if the machine doesn’t work. Oh, there’s a syringe with the serum that could be manually injected (RED FLAG #10: Why not, you know, use the syringe instead of building a complex machine to do the same function?)

Of course the machine doesn’t work and Spidey has to chase the Lizard through Times Square to give him the serum, leading to the climactic fight scene. Spidey wins, Connors and May are cured, and we are on to the epilogues.

Lindsay-Abaire sets up the Hobgoblin as the villain for the fifth film.

Lindsay-Abaire sets up the Hobgoblin as the villain for the fifth film.

The first shows a man named Roderick Kingsley (who comic fans know as the Hobgoblin) entering the former Osborn mansion. It appears that he has bought the place. He notices the mirrored doorway that Harry broke in Spider-Man 2. Kingsley steps inside and notices all of Norman’s goblin paraphernalia. This brings us to our final RED FLAG # 11. I’m not schooled in the world of real estate, but you have to think that people would make repairs to the Osborn mansion before they sold it. And if they did, they’d notice the stash of goblin stuff in the secret closet. Which would be more likely: A) The realty company takes out all the goblin stuff and does something with it, B) a worker snaps a few pictures, sells them to the Daily Bugle and they get the scoop that Osborn was the Goblin, C) a workman steals the tech for himself, or D) they leave it as is, not even fixing the door, for the next owner to come in and do with it what they will. I pick anything other than D.

The second was Peter setting things right with Aunt May and the third indicated that Gwen Stacy would have been the romantic interest from then on out.

raimi writingEleven red flags are a lot, but the fact that the Lizard was the villain of the reboot does add veracity to the script. I can’t say the same for the “Sam Raimi Treatment,” which just might make 11 red flags by its second paragraph.

Like the Lindsay-Abaire script, the cover page doesn’t have a date (RED FLAG #1), but it goes into detail about how the script is not just for writers Gary Ross and James Vanderbilt and “executive in charge” Todd Black, but also that it is supposed to be considered over the Lindsay-Abaire script. This seems unnecessary because that fact should be obvious to all concerned (RED FLAG #2).

The four-page treatment also begins in the Daily Bugle. This is where the red flags will begin piling up.  Peter finds that J. Jonah Jameson is out as editor of the Daily Bugle, and is replaced a humorless man called Adriano Tombs. If you think that name sounds similar to the real name of Spidey villain The Vulture, you’d be right. Tombs is the Vulture in this film, the name changed from the comic’s Adrian Toomes (RED FLAG #3).

Why was the name changed?  Did “Raimi” simply forget how to spell it? Doubtful. But if he did, he probably had access to the source material at beck and call. Did they think Adrian was too wimpy a name? Tell that to the linebackers Adrian Peterson runs over on any given Sunday. Chose Tombs to act as a counterpart to Vulture? It’s too punny. There’s really no good reason to change the name (RED FLAG #4).

Get rid of this guy? Really?

Get rid of this guy? Really?

But there’s really no reason to get rid of J. Jonah (RED FLAG #5), who was the one consistently great part of the films to date. I know the films are built around Peter having a connection with the bad guy, but there were better ways to do it than getting rid of one of the franchise’s best characters, especially because there is another emotional connection yet to come.spiderman_vulture

It is also revealed that Tombs robs banks at night (RED FLAG #6). When the banks are closed (RED FLAG #7). As the Vulture, with a flying suit (RED FLAG #8). Yeah, that makes sense.

Well, Peter soon finds out that Tombs is the Vulture by examining the crime scene with his heretofore unseen utility belt (RED FLAG #9) which helps him find a feather that has Tombs’ DNA on it. Or in it. The treatment doesn’t specify.

Next we meet Mary Jane and she has a bombshell to drop—she has reconnected with her real dad (RED FLAG #10). Yes, the abusive father from the first film apparently was a step-dad? Adopted father? Anyhow, you’ll never guess who MJ’s real dad is? It’s Adriano Tombs! (RED FLAG #11)

Electro-Comic-BookThe Vulture makes the leap from robbing banks to stealing “nuclear power capsules.” (RED FLAG #12) In the process of stealing one from “Electro Corp,” (RED FLAG #13) he smashes a worker by the name of Max Dillon into a “nuclear power diode.” (RED FLAG #14) Instead of giving Dillon radiation powers, or, more likely, cancer, this accident gives him electrical powers. Thus enters the film’s second villain (RED FLAG #15), Electro.

Electro is so mad at the Vulture that he melts a Daily Bugle with a Vulture story in it (RED FLAG #16).

Meanwhile, MJ stumbles into Tombs’ secret lair and sees him fixing the mechanical wings on his Vulture suit. Let’s give the RED FLAG #17 for the lair being so easy to find, RED FLAG #18 for a newspaper editor being able to afford it, and RED FLAG #19 for having metallic wings when Spidey found a feather earlier in the treatment.

The next day, Electro attacks the Daily Bugle. The treatment doesn’t specify why, but it hints that either it’s because the Vulture’s pictures were in their paper (RED FLAG #20 for ripping off a plot point of the first Spider-Man) or to get Tombs/Vulture because he recognizes they are one and the same (RED FLAG #21 for not having anyone else make that connection, including the authorities. Come to think of it, Peter had scientific proof that Tombs was the Vulture since the third scene. RED FLAG #22 for him not acting on it).

Tombs escapes, but Electro tracks him down (How? Never said. RED FLAG #23). But now, instead of wanting to kill him, he wants to team up with the Vulture to kill Spider-man (RED FLAG #24 for Spider-Man 3’s plot point, which was dumb to begin with).

Next comes two emotional scenes from Peter’s private life.  First is a scene where he admits to Aunt May that he is Spider-Man (RED FLAG #25, because that completes the supporting character who knows his identity set) and that he feels bad for not helping save Uncle Ben’s life (RED FLAG #26, for once again going to a well that was used in an earlier film.)

Second is a scene with MJ where she tells him he was right about Tombs but breaks up with him over his self righteousness (What? RED FLAG #27). She claims to be going to Los Angeles.

Anne Hathaway was linked to the role of Black Cat/Vultress

Anne Hathaway was linked to the role of Black Cat/Vultress

A sullen Spidey is on patrol when he sees a female cat burglar with white hair breaking into a “diamond storage house.” Spidey tries to stop her, but she gets away after Peter gets all moony-eyed over her beauty. A chase ensues and the pair comes across an arms deal by the docks. The couple breaks this up and gets so hot and bothered they go back to Peter’s apartment to have sex, complete with a morning after joint shower with female nudity that is stressed in the treatment.  Peter then asks the cat burglar for help taking down the Vulture.

Ah, where to begin with the red flags. This, as any comic book fan will tell you, introduces the Black Cat into the film franchise. This also makes the number of villains in the film to 3, which is never a good thing for a superhero film (RED FLAG #28). And for a franchise that hasn’t had anything more sexual than an upside down kiss or anything more provocative that a wet T-shirt, we get a sex scene (RED FLAG #29) and a gratuitous nude scene (RED FLAG #30) one right after the other. Hook-ups like this seldom appear in real life without alcohol involved (RED FLAG #31) and for a man who wears a mask to hide his identity, Peter seems a bit too quick to let a woman he met while stopping her from breaking and entering into his circle of trust (RED FLAG #32).

The bad guys, meanwhile, decide to go after Spider-Man by targeting Peter because they ‘can sense it’ (Really, that’s what the treatment said. RED FLAG #33). “It” is a connection to Spider-Man which has already been established in the other films (RED FLAG #34). Of course, to get to Peter, they go through Aunt May, who they take captive. Because that is what bad guys do. Don’t go after the nebbish science geek photog who himself doesn’t appear to be much of a threat, take out his aunt instead (RED FLAG #35).

ultimate-spider-man-animated-electroSoon, the city is plunged into darkness. Spidey and the Black Cat go to the “Main Power Facility” and find a twenty-foot tall Electro (RED FLAG #36) fighting police officers.  Spidey needs him lured between two “energy pillars” so Black Cat lures him there by revealing some cleavage (RED FLAG #37), enticing giant Electro to follow. He does and when he is between the pillars , Spidey flips a switch and sends even more power into giant Electro, overloading him and causing him to explode “like a miniature nuclear bomb,” causing mass destruction along the east side of Manhattan.

Yes, not only did Peter willingly and deliberately kill the bad guy (RED FLAG #38), something he hasn’t done so far in the franchise (RED FLAG #39), but he does so in a way that, at the very least, the cops on the scene (RED FLAG #40) but most likely hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who have the unfortunate luck to live within range of Electro’s blast radius, die as well (RED FLAG #41). I mean, even miniature nuclear bombs are massively destructive.

Peter shows some remorse, but not much before Black Cat shoots him with a tranquilizer dart she produces out of thin air (RED FLAG #42).

3024718-vulture-marvel_knights_spider-man#4-vs_black_catA chained Spidey wakes up in a warehouse to find the Black Cat and Vulture working together (RED FLAG #43). See, she had to do it, because the Vulture kidnapped her sister, in one of the most convoluted yet not at all telegraphed traps in film history! (RED FLAG #44). And there the sister is, tied to the same pile of explosives that Aunt May is! (RED FLAG #45). And the Vulture is holding the detonator! (RED FLAG #46) Spider-Man frees himself, webs the detonator away from the Vulture and Black Cat attacks the Vulture. The Black Cat does the lion’s share of taking down the bad guy (RED FLAG #47) while Spidey frees the hostages. Spidey does web up Vulture for the cops.

Black Cat and Spidey make up, and Peter leaves the task of protecting the city to her, a burglar who has shown little to no interest in helping the city at all to this point and whose one defining trait is that she can’t be trusted (RED FLAG #48).

After a heart to heart with Aunt May where she forgives him, he bumps into MJ (What? All fights to LA delayed? RED FLAG #49). She has changed her mind and wants to be with Peter, who refuses, because that is what their relationship has come to by this point (RED FLAG #50).

The film ends with Spidey on top of the Brooklyn Bridge, feeling a “sense of regret” for being Spidey all these years (and apparently, all the lives he saved as well. RED FLAG #51). He tosses the mask off the bridge, deciding to give up being Spidey once and for all, you know like he did for a half hour in Spider-Man 2 (RED FLAG #52).

Granted, all treatments are rough with holes to be filled in at a later date. But this one is awful. If Raimi did write this treatment,  the only reason for it being so awful that I am willing to accept is that it was a poison pill for the producers in order to entice them into accepting  another version of the script. “They want Black Cat? Oh, I’ll give them Black Cat…in the worst way possible!”

John-Malkovich-The-Vulture-Spider-Man.JPGIf that’s the case, it backfired. John Malkovich was signed to play the Vulture and New York magazine’s Vulture website listed a plot that sounded an awful lot like this treatment.

Or it could be fan fiction constructed by what was known about the film and scenes from the older films and made up the treatment from whole cloth. I am leaning towards this one, because I want to believe an even deliberately awful Raimi treatment would be better than this.

Regardless, neither script got made. The above article lists everything from Raimi wanting Avatar like special effects in the film to toy licensor Hasbro raising concerns that the 60-year old Vulture wouldn’t sell many toys in their toy line as a reason for Raimi’s exit. However, the official party line is that Raimi wanted more time to create a workable script than what he was given and Sony, wanting to keep the sequels previously announced release date intact, refused to give more so Raimi left.

This of course caused Sony to start from scratch on a reboot (a process which ironically necessitated Sony moving the release date back anyway). We’ll talk about that next time.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: Spidey’s Rise And Fall

Posted on 22 November 2013 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. Today, we look at the highs, the lows and the grisly end of the first Spider-Man trilogy.

Spider-Man_2_PosterWith Spider-Man a resounding success, Sony’s decision to start work on the sequel before that first film came out turned into a prudent decision. Sam Raimi was back at the helm, with script by Smallville’s Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, who were later joined by David Koepp. This script would have brought Spidey into conflict with Doctor Octopus AND the Lizard AND Black Cat. See, the villain cramming started almost immediately.

Novelist Michael Chabon was tapped to rewrite the script. He pared the villains down to just Doc Ock but made him more a contemporary of Peter and had him enter a love triangle for the affections of Mary Jane. Harry’s quest for vengeance would begin in earnest, having put out a $10 million bounty on Spidey.

Raimi worked with screenwriter Alvin Sargent to cull bits and pieces from various screenplays and molded them into the formula that was used in the first film. Doc Ock was the main villain, and once again, the bad guy was a sympathetic figure who was a mentor/father figure to Peter, albeit with an air of tragedy added to the mix. Doctor Otto Octavius goes mad after an experiment to create cold fusion goes haywire, killing his wife and fusing his prosthetic arms to him.

doc ockThe formula extended to the casting as well, as talented British actor Alfred Molina was cast as Otto Octavius over bigger names that were rumored to be up for the role such as Robert DeNiro or Ed Harris. Once again, the ploy worked out because we were allowed to focus on Molina’s great acting without any baggage another actor would have brought to the role.

However, we came close to having a new Peter Parker. Tobey Maguire made some noise about not returning to the role due to back problems, which was married to some complaints he had about his salary for the first film in comparison to the money the film made. Sony/Columbia went so far as to offer the role to Jake Gyllenhaal as a replacement before calmer heads and healthy backs prevailed and Maguire rejoined the cast.

The film also took notes from the comic books as Peter has problems with his powers (as he often did in the comics) which cause him to give up being Spidey for a while (as he did in the classic Amazing Spider-Man #50, which is referenced in a shot of Peter putting his Spidey costume in the trash).

Raimi seems to come into his own here. The surgery scene is vintage Raimi slapstick horror, and the emotional beats play better here that in the original. Bruce Campbell returns, this time as a snooty Broadway theater usher who refuses Peter late entry into Mary Jane’s play.

Spiderman-2This all resulted in a better film than the first one, in quality if not in grosses. It broke the record for one day grosses set by the first film with $40.4 million, but its domestic take of $373.5 million and $783.7 million worldwide lagged behind its predecessor.

But that haul was still worthy of garnering a sequel, and garner a sequel it did. And it was now that the wheels came off the franchise.

Spider-Man_3,_International_PosterOnce again, development of the film began before the prior film had even hit theaters, and almost immediately the production got off on the wrong foot. Raimi (along with a returning Sargent) was interested in bringing two villains, the Sandman and the Vulture, into the film to fight Spidey. As any experienced comic book film viewer can tell you, once you add more than one villain to the mix, you’re asking for trouble.

Worse than that, Raimi intended the Sandman to be a petty thief named Flint Marko, a man who steals to help his sick daughter, that got himself trapped in a particle accelerator and had his body fused with sand. Since this didn’t have the emotional pull it needed, Raimi decided to do a retcon and have Marko be the man who really killed Uncle Ben, albeit quasi-accidentally. This plot point is what irritated me the most about this installment. It was tacked on and it completely felt like it was. It was a cheap way to ramp up the emotional through lines of the film.

spiderman3-5Then Avi Arad got involved and convinced Raimi to change the Vulture to the more modern and more popular comic book villain Venom. Venom’s origin in the comic books is way too convoluted (it was an alien symbiote that Spider-Man picked up on an alien planet that he used as a costume until he found out it was sucking the life force out of him and he had to get rid of it. The symbiote then bonded with Eddie Brock, a man with an intense hatred of Spider-Man) so they simplified it for the film, slightly (it was an alien symbiote that came to Earth attached to a meteor that landed in Central Park, near where Peter was having a romantic rendezvous with Mary Jane. The symbiote managed to attach itself to Peter’s moped and followed him home, where it eventually became Spider-Man’s costume and began to negatively change his personality. Peter got rid of it and it attached itself to rival photographer Eddie Brock). Nonetheless, the character was a turn away from the “science gone wrong” villains the franchise had to that point.

spider-man-3-1You can almost see Raimi’s dislike of being forced to take Venom on in the casting for the villains roles. For Sandman, he cast Thomas Hayden Church, who was fresh off his Oscar nomination for Sideways, who brough weight and pathos to the role. For Venom, he cast Topher Grace, an actor with plenty of Teen Choice Award nominations to his credit, who seemed overwhelmed by the role, relying on smarmy and snark to get him by.

The producers also wanted to introduce Gwen Stacy (played by a redhead turned blonde Bryce Taylor Howard) into the mix to create a love triangle with MJ (still played by the blonde turned redhead Kirsten Dunst) for Peter’s affections. Harry also formed the corner of another love triangle for MJ’s affections, meaning the film had two competing love triangles, neither of which was as well formed or as well developed as one would have liked.

harryosbornSpeaking of Harry, it was in this film that they decided to bring his long simmering quest for vengeance to the forefront, creating yet another villain for Spidey to fight as Harry donned updated versions of his father’s Goblin gear.  Harry’s character arc goes from villain to supporting character (after he gets amnesia (?)) to villain to hero, without ever doing the due diligence the changes deserve.

Bruce Campbell makes his final cameo, this time as a maître d’ who helps Peter try to propose to Mary Jane.

All of this adds up to a jam packed, convoluted film that, in all honesty, isn’t quite as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Sure, compared to the two films that came before it, it was Plan 9 from Outer Space-bad. But compared to Catwoman or Ghost Rider? Miles above those two.

Even though many critics considered the film to be the worst of the lot, moviegoers didn’t think so. They made the film the highest grossing one of the trilogy, earning $890,871,626 worldwide. So, yet another sequel was in the making. Raimi, Maguire and Dunst all agreed to return for the fourth installment.

But it was not to be. We’ll talk about that next time, along with the reboot that took its place.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: Up, Up And Away, Web!

Posted on 08 November 2013 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. Today, we look at one of the best superhero franchises, the first Spider-Man trilogy.

MV5BMzk3MTE5MDU5NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMjY3NTY3._V1._SX424_SY627_The years of stops and starts were behind it, and all the legal wrangling was a thing of the past. It was now finally time for Sony to bring Spider-Man to the big screen. The only question was who would be the director at the helm.

Sony was not messing around. When it began its search in 1999, its list of directors included Roland Emmerich ( three years removed from Independence Day and following up the critically lambasted yet still successful Godzilla), Tim Burton (the man who brought Batman to the big screen and was coming off Mars Attacks and a failed attempt to bring a Nic Cage Superman to the big screen), Chris Columbus (much in demand director of Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire who was coming off a hit with Stepmom), and David Fincher (who was still riding high from Se7en and was in the process of making Fight Club  at the time).

Each director would do well in capturing a quality of the character. Emmerich would do well with the bombast and spectacle of the character, Burton the quirky weirdness, Columbus the heart and sensitivity and Fincher the dark and morbid underpinnings (his proposal for the film? Start with the death of Gwen Stacy).  But the director they chose was able to capture all these characteristics of Spider-Man and more. That director would be Sam Raimi.

Spiderman - Sam Raimi directs Tobey Maguire and Kirsten DunstRaimi was at the time best known for the Evil Dead series of films, but was starting to move away from genre films with films such as A Simple Plan, For the Love of the Game, and the then in-production, The Gift. But Raimi was also a comic book collector with a focus on the Silver Age. So, Sony hired the perfect man for the job, someone who understood the character yet was a great director with a unique style and vision.

Once Raimi signed on, work began on updating the James Cameron scriptment to the big screen.   David Koepp replaced Cameron’s Electro and Sandman analogs with the more pertinent Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus. Raimi’s wish to play up the father/son triangle between Norman and Harry and Norman and Peter caused Doc Ock to become expendable. The character was removed in Scott Rosenberg’s rewrite.  Eventually, practically the only thing remaining in the final film from Cameron’s scriptment was the organic web-shooters.

tobey-maguire-1Raimi then set about casting the film. Even though the studio wanted a big name like Leonardo DiCaprio or Freddie Prinze Jr. (yes, for a brief period after I Know What You Did Last Summer and She’s All That, Prinze was a big name), Raimi insisted on Tobey Maguire for the role of Peter Parker. Casting Norman Osborn/Green Goblin was slightly more difficult, as first choices Nicolas Cage (thankfully) and John Malkovich (regrettably) passed on the role. Luckily, a copy of the script fell into Willem Dafoe’s hands and he began to lobby for the part. Eventually, he won Raimi over and was cast as the villain.

This was a boon for the franchise. Maguire was well enough known as an actor that he was recognizable, but was not so famous that he would overshadow the character. He also was a great character actor, playing Peter’s angst-filled and somewhat sad sack persona without ever becoming annoying. And Dafoe was a great fit for Osborn, creating the right note as a good man going insane. In other hands, the transformation would not be believable. In Dafoe’s it was.

the_original_spider_man_poster_that_was_pulled_after_911Of course, the casting was solid top to bottom, with everyone doing well in their roles. Kristen Dunst’s Mary Jane might not have been the sexpot she was in the comics, but she was the girl next door the script called for. James Franco did well as Harry in what he was given. But the greatest acting job of the entire cast was J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. Simmons totally captured the bluster and the bombast of the character to a “T”. Also, watch closely as you will see future stars Joe Manganiello (True Blood) and Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games) as Flash Thompson and Betty Brant.

But even this time around, the path to the big screen wasn’t without bumps, this time provided by real world events. While teasing the film in the summer of 2001, Sony wanted to show that the film was set in New York and used an iconic New York City landmark in its publicity—the World Trade Center.  The Twin Towers feature prominently in the first posters for the film (look at Spidey’s eyes in the poster to the right for their reflection) and in the first teaser trailer.

Unfortunately, the events of September 11, 2001 turned the advertising’s respectful nod to a famous part of the New York skyline into a haunting reminder of the lives lost when terrorists attacked those buildings. The poster and trailer were both recalled and a scene with random New Yorkers added to the final film to reflect the spirit of cooperation citizens showed in the days after the tragedy.

The film itself follows in the formula established by X-Men two years earlier. It made changes to the story so that it would make a better film, but stayed true to the spirit if the original work.   Spider-Man is still a decent human being, horribly haunted by one poor decision that left someone he loved dead. The main differences are that he was bitten by a genetically altered spider and not a radioactive one. And his main nemesis dressed up as a flea market version of Iron Man instead of, well, a goblin.

uncleben2But overall, the film worked because it struck this balance. Uncle Ben still dies, but this time immediately after Peter negligently lets the robber escape. This allows for a powerful scene between Cliff Robertson (as Ben) and Tobey Maguire, as Peter arrives in time to spend a last few minutes with his uncle.

A similar, character-defining death scene occurred the same year in Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones and the difference in quality is embarrassing. Anakin’s mother’s death is supposed to be one of first things that push him to the dark side. Unfortunately, compared to Uncle Ben’s death, it lacks emotional potency and seems hollow.

Raimi also employed some of his cinematic trademarks in the film. The 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Raimi uses in most of his films became the Parker’s family car. And longtime collaborator Bruce Campbell has a cameo as a wrestling announcer who gives Spider-Man his name.

The film set records when released, including becoming the first film to earn $100 million dollars in its opening weekend. The $39,406,872 it made on its first day set a record for the highest opening day total. The film grossed $403,706,375 domestically and $821,708,551 worldwide, making the long road to the screen worth it. Obviously, it also meant that a sequel was in the making. We’ll talk about that next time out as we wrap up the Raimi era of Spider-Man.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: The Tangled Web

Posted on 25 October 2013 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. Today, we look at trials and tribulations Marvel went through in order to get Spider-Man on the big screen.

megospidermanstuffIf you grew up in the 1970s or 1980s, Spider-Man was Marvel Comics. He was on the company’s masthead. He was on television either in cartoon form or live-action from the 60s to today. He was featured on T-shirts, bedspreads, dolls, Underoos, Halloween costumes and various other forms of ephemera. He was not only by far Marvel’s most recognizable character he was also one of the most recognizable characters in the whole world.

Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus

Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus

This makes it especially puzzling that Menahem Golan and his cousin Yoram Globus had no idea who the character was. When they bought the rights to Spider-Man for Cannon Films in 1985, they knew they had a sure-fire concept. Thing is, they thought it was a horror concept about a person who was more spider than man.

Yes, for everyone out there who has issues with either the Sam Raimi or Marc Webb takes on the character, please take a moment to consider that you almost had a film directed by Tobe Hooper where Peter Parker, an ID badge photographer for a science lab, would run afoul of a mad scientist who would have turned him into a human tarantula, eight-furry legs and all. The Internet would have had to have gone public much sooner just so fans could complain about the film on it.

Considering that’s how Spider-Man’s journey to the big screen began, it’s not hard to understand why it took over 17 more years before we got a Spider-Man film.

Amazing_Fantasy_15The story of Spider-Man’s creation varies depending on how Stan Lee choses to portray it. Sometimes he says he was inspired by a spider crawling up the wall. Sometimes he was inspired by the teenage demographic that was reading Marvel’s output at the time. And sometimes it was his desire to put a new spin on how a teenage character would be portrayed in comics, as they usually were used in humorous stories (for example, Archie Andrews) or as sidekick to a hero (notably Robin) but never as the hero themselves. Whatever the true story is, it was a hard sell for Lee. He had to argue with Marvel’s then-publisher, Martin Goodman, in order to have the story published, and then only published in July 1962’s Amazing Fantasy #15, the last issue of a failed anthology series (which was, essentially, only one step above being relegated to the trash heap).

Lee first went to his typical creative partner, Jack Kirby, to work out the concept. Kirby returned with a repurposed idea he and his former partner Joe Simon had for a revamp of the Archie Comics’ superhero the Fly. Kirby’s Spider-Man would be an orphan who finds a magic ring that turns him into a web-gun wielding superhero (if it being repurposed from the Fly wasn’t enough, that origin skewed maybe a bit too closely to Fawcett’s Captain Marvel). Kirby drew up some sketches to flesh out his ideas for the character, but they weren’t to Lee’s liking. They were too beefy and conventionally heroic. As much as Kirby’s heirs say that Spider-Man is a Jack Kirby creation, the only thing that really survived from his idea is a mechanical web-shooter (albeit now in the form of a wrist-mounted model).

Steve Ditko was next up to the plate, and he hit one out of the park. He drew a spindly, awkward kid for Peter Parker and Spider-Man, a break from the barrel-chested heroes common in comics those days. Ditko’s art matched the put-upon, can’t-catch-a-break characterization that Lee created for the character.

spider-man-letterhead

Spider-man: From Unwanted Character to Corporate Mascot

Even though Goodman intended Spider-Man to die a quick and painless death with Amazing Fantasy, fans had other ideas. They responded to Lee and Ditko’s unique take on the superhero, and they wanted more. Well, they got more. Spider-Man soon got his own series, The Amazing Spider-Man, six months later. Two years later, another comic was added (reprint title Marvel Tales) then another (1972’s Marvel Team-Up, which became Web of Spider-Man in 1985), then another (Spectacular Spider-Man in 1977).  Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four on September 9, 1967 as the first Marvel heroes to headline their own cartoons (an anthology series, The Marvel Super Heroes, had a brief run the year before). The character would star in seven other animated series over the next 45 years. And in 1977, Spider-Man became the first Marvel character to have his own series on network television.

So, taking into consideration the character’s popularity, the fact that it not only took to 1985 for the rights to a Spider-Man feature film to be picked up but also was to be made into a cheesy B-grade horror flick was astounding. But not as astounding as the path Spider-Man took to the screen from there.

spiderman85Fortunately, the film about the Horrific Man-Spider didn’t get much traction. Stan Lee, who by this time had moved out to California to be Marvel’s liaison with the film industry, stepped in and put a stop to that version of the film. Lee convinced Cannon to create a new script to more mirror the original work. That script was written by Ted Newsom and John Brancato and featured a college-aged Peter Parker squaring off against his former mentor, Doctor Otto Octavius a.k.a. Doctor Octopus.

Joseph Zito replace Hooper as director, brought in Barney Cohen to do a rewrite and was given a budget between $15 to $20 million dollars to work with (for reference, contemporary films RoboCop and Predator had a budget of $13 million and $15 million respectively).  Tom Cruise was rumored to be considered for Peter Parker (although this would come after Risky Business and Top Gun, so I think that was mostly wishful thinking), Bob Hoskins for Doctor Octopus, and Lauren Bacall and Katherine Hepburn  for Aunt May.

levaspider-man1

Stuntman Scott Leva was attached to the role of Spider-Man as the production got cheaper and cheaper.

That seems like it would have been a pretty darn great cast! I mean, Katherine Hepburn as Aunt May? A young Tom Cruise as Peter Parker? That film would have made money hand over fist! Unfortunately, Cannon was spending money hand over fist on other projects. Soon, they were unable to afford the $15 million budget. The script was rewritten to make it cheaper, and therefore, poorer in quality. Soon, any hope of getting A-list talent faded away, along with the prospects of the film being made. Cannon shut down the costly project altogether, although still holding onto the rights.

Cannon still had rights in 1989 when they were bought out by French production company Pathé. Menahem Golan used the Cannon buyout to make a break from the company, and in lieu of a golden parachute, he took the rights to Spider-Man with him when he left.

Golan formed 21st Century Production and started the process of raising funds for a Spider-Man film, including selling television rights to Viacom and home video rights to Columbia Pictures. Golan continued developing the film for several years until in 1993 when Carolco, not 21st Century, announced that they had a script in for a new Spider-Man film from none other than James Cameron.

CameronHeader1Titanic was several years away, and Cameron at the time just completed True Lies, but he was still the creative force behind The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. So this was a big deal in the comic book community. This was the biggest name attached to a comic book project yet, and the fans were excited.

I don’t know how excited fans would have been if Cameron’s vision made it to the screen. Cameron did not actually deliver a script, but rather a scriptment (a treatment with a fair amount of dialogue), so what was in that document could have changed before it made it to the big screen.  But what was in that scriptment would have caused a bit of a stir in the comic book community.

An imagined movie poster for the Cameron Spider-Man film that ran in Wizard Magazine

An imagined movie poster for the Cameron Spider-Man film that ran in Wizard Magazine

It’s not that Cameron changed a lot of Spider-Man’s mythos, a lot of the film goes step in step with the established Spider-Man mythos. Or that the changes were bad, some did eventually make it into the Raimi films. It’s just that some of the changes were arbitrary. Instead of Flash Thompson, Peter Parker is bullied by Flash McCarthy. The main villain is a man with the power over electricity, but instead of longtime Spidey villain Electro, it is a criminal business man named Carlton Strand. Strand has a lackey that can turn  his body into sand, but instead of the lackey being Flint Marko, the Sandman, it is someone named Boyd.

Cameron’s scriptment would have been rated R due to its vulgarity. Peter gains organic web-shooters and discovers he has them during an unseemly nocturnal emission. Peter drops the F-bomb in various forms in the scriptment, is prone to graphic and sadistic violence and has an explicit sex scene with Mary Jane on top of the Brooklyn Bridge. Again, this wasn’t a shooting script, and I’d imagine that a lot of these elements would have been toned down if it made it to the final film, but they are nonetheless a cause for concern.

Although, we will never know how audiences would react. Cameron’s film never made it out of the development stage as the project became bogged down in lawsuits. Golan sued Carolco because he was not credited as a producer on the project as agreed (Cameron was given control over how the credits were done and left Golan’s name off all the promotional materials and press releases). Carolco sued Viacom and Columbia to get the TV and Home Video rights back, and the two companies promptly sued right back.  MGM eventually acquired 21st Century’s assets and sued 21st Century, Viacom and Marvel stating there was fraud in the original rights agreements to Spider-Man.

Luckily, this is as far as the James Bond/Spider-man fight got.

Luckily, this is as far as the James Bond/Spider-Man fight got.

The result was that the project went into limbo for five years. Cameron moved on to make Titanic and never looked back.  Carolco, 21st Century and Marvel all went bankrupt. Eventually, the courts decided that the original rights agreement between Cannon and Marvel expired and the rights reverted back to Marvel. MGM disputed this and even though Marvel immediately sold its Spider-Man rights to Columbia, MGM made rumblings that they were going to make a Spider-Man film of their own.

Columbia, who had been eyeing Spider-Man as a tentpole franchise for years, combated this by  saying that they were planning on coming out with a James Bond franchise, based on a rights agreement that they made for 1967’s Casino Royale spoof. The Bond franchise was the jewel in MGM’s properties, the one sure money maker that kept them afloat through numerous financial difficulties. To have a competing Bond franchise at Columbia would be devastating. So the two studios came to an agreement: MGM would give up the fight for Spider-Man rights and Columbia would relinquish its 007 rights. Finally, the way was paved for a Spider-Man film.

And we’ll talk about what came to the screen in the next installment.

 

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: So Good You Won’t Know They’re From Comics

Posted on 11 October 2013 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. Today, we look at films that got good reviews and award nominations paradoxthat many people have no idea were adapted from graphic novels.

Paradox Press, like Piranha Press before it, was sort of a boutique imprint established by DC Comics. You wouldn’t find Superman and Batman in the pages of a Paradox Press book, but you would find stories that didn’t quite fit in with the mainstream comic book world. Whether it be a scholarly dissection of the art of making comics or “Big Books” devoted to cult topics such as conspiracies or urban legends, tales of a mental patient who thinks he’s Humphrey Bogart or realistically violent crime-dramas, quality works that were too outside of the typical comic book genres found in DC’s regular line-up found a home here.  And it was from this imprint that DC experienced some of its most successful film adaptations, although many filmgoers had no idea of the film’s origins.

road_to_perdition_xlgIt is only natural that Road to Perdition not be considered a comic book film because in 2002, no comic book film at that time had people of such caliber involved in its making. It was championed at Dreamworks by Oscar-winner Steven Spielberg. It was directed by Oscar winner Sam Mendes. Its two biggest roles went to Oscar winners Tom Hanks and Paul Newman. The villain was Oscar nominee Jude Law. And if that wasn’t enough, the film featured a pre-Bond, heck, pre-Layer Cake Daniel Craig. Arguably, it could be the only comic book film that people that hated comic books saw, because they had no idea of its comic book origins.

But it did start as a 1998 graphic novel written by crime novelist Max Allan Collins and drawn by English comic book artist Richard Piers Rayner.  It was an ode to Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s Lone Wolf and Cub (which we talked about here) which took place in Depression-era Illinois. It centered on a mob henchman by the name of Michael O’Sullivan who works for the real-life crime boss named John Looney. When O’Sulivan’s eldest son witnesses Looney’s son Conor kill a business rival, the Looney’s put a hit out on the rest of O’Sullivan’s family. Michael and his eldest survive and begin a cross-country trek to pay the Looney’s back for their betrayal, leaving a trail of bullet casings in their wake.

The film changed the Looney’s to the Rooney’s (Why? I don’t know), turned O’Sullivan into simply Sullivan (Maybe they thought it would be easier to remember?), increased the screen presence of Jude Law’s character,  and toned down the violence from the comic. The result was a great film that garnered six Oscar nominations (including one for Paul Newman as John Rooney) and one win for Best Cinematography.

Back in January of 2013, David Cronenberg rose my ire by saying that films adapted from comic books could never be considered art because the source material is so juvenile. So I guess he was just slumming when he directed the next film on our list, History of Violence.

history_of_violence_xlgPerhaps Cronenberg simply didn’t know that the story was adapted from another Paradox Press graphic novel written by John Wagner and drawn by Vince Locke. Perhaps since the text is graphically violent and deals with mature themes, he felt that it couldn’t be from the kid-friendly world of the graphic novel. Or maybe because the ending changed so much from the book, he though the film raised above the level of hackdom.

The first half of the film adapts the comic with a few minor changes. It tells the story of a man by the name of Tom Stall (changed from McKenna in the book) who lives in a small town in Indiana (changed from Michigan) who gains a small amount of fame after he defends his coffee shop from a robbery. The fame brings Carl Fogarty (John Torrino in the book) to town. Fogarty claims that Tom really is Joey Cusack (Muni in the graphic novel), a man who had run afoul of the Philadelphia Irish Mafia (It was a New York Mafia in the comic). Tom protests, but when Fogarty kidnaps Tom’s son, Stall must drop the charade and reveal the truth to his family.

It’s here where the narratives split and go in different directions. The book reveals that Tom/Joey was a two-bit crook who ripped off a crime boss with his friend Ritchie. Tom/Joey skipped town and left Ritchie holding the bag and to get the lion’s share of the punishment. In the film, Tom/Joey was a contract killer for the mob who got tired of the life and walked away. Ritchie is now his brother, and has put a hit out on his “broheim” because Tom/Joey cost him a chance to rise up the ranks of the crime family.

Cronenberg might have a dismissive view of comic book films, but he did alright by this one. He created a better than average thriller out of the material, and the film was nominated for a Palm D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and it also received two Oscar nominations.

Next time, we’ll begin the tumultuous journey to the screen of Marvel’s most iconic character, Spider-Man.

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